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I insist on unconditional return of looted assets – Buhari

…moves to abolish Bank Secrecy jurisdiction
…wants crackdown on safe havens for corrupt assets
…says money politics elevates corrupt, unprincipled persons to position

By Johnbosco Agbakwuru

ABUJA – PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday insisted that looted assets kept abroad must be returned unconditionally to strengthen international cooperation through information and mutual legal assistance.

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The President also hinted that his administration was pressing to abolish bank secrecy jurisdictions, tax havens on the continent and beyond and a crackdown on safe havens for corrupt assets.

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Speaking at the National Democracy Day Anti-Corruption Summit organized by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC in Abuja, President Buhari lamented that the political space has been hijacked by cash and carry politicians who have elevated corruption and unprincipled persons to position of authority.

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This, he said would help in further strengthening of international cooperation through information and mutual legal assistance.

President Buhari said that the theme for the Summit, “Curbing Electoral Spending: A Panacea for Public Corruption”, was the most appropriate in the light of the country’s past and recent political experiences and in Africa as a whole.

He noted with regret that recent political experiences in Nigeria “have been characterized by the corrupting influence of money on party politics and electioneering processes.

“This unwholesome practice has dire consequences on our nations, in subverting the exercise of free choice by voters, elevated corrupt and unprincipled individuals to positions of leadership and entrenching the structures of democracy devoid of accountability.

“Electoral spending manifests in different forms and so should the approaches to curb it. That is the way to de-commercialize the political process so that true democracy can survive and thrive.”

He said that the country has sufficient legal framework in place to combat reckless electoral spending, adding, “The provision of Section 90 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (As Amended) explicitly puts a cap on the amount candidates for different political offices must expend on elections, failing which they are violating the law.

“Of greater significance is the provision of section 88 of the Act which prohibits a political party in Nigeria from ‘possessing any fund outside or retaining funds or other assets remitted to it from outside Nigeria’.

“The philosophical underpinning of the above provisions and other related provisions of the Act is to prevent desperate politicians from buying their ways into political offices at the expense of low – spending law-abiding individuals.”

The Nigeria leader urged all law enforcement agencies and the Judiciary in Nigeria, and across Africa, to tackle financial corruption in the political systems.

According to him, “Uncontrolled electoral spending and voter inducement by politicians must be combated if we want to consolidate true democracy and good governance.

“This Summit, therefore, has the potential of spurring us to action starting with the discussions and exchange of ideas among participants. It is also my hope that the participation of Heads of African anti-corruption agencies in this Summit would enrich the discussion with valuable regional and continental perspectives.

“Let us remind ourselves of the Thabo Mbeki Panel on illicit financial flaws published a few years ago. Through corruption Africa has lost over $1 trillion over the last 50 years, a figure surpassing all the combined development aid received by the continent during the same period.

“Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I want to remind us that political corruption is merely an extension of larger corruption in the wider society. Consequently, if we desire to curtail political corruption in public governance, then, corruption must also be fought in the wider society.

“This underscores the guiding principle and commitment of our Administration. This commitment derives, as I once stated, from the fact that:

“Corruption runs completely counter to our shared values as Africans – the values of justice, the sense of fairness, law and order, equity and equality. Corruption rewards those who do not play by the rules and also creates a system of patronage where the resources are shared out by a small elite, while the majority are trapped in poverty.

“During the recently concluded election campaigns, I stated clearly that the major areas of priority during my second term in office as it was in my first term will be: Security, economic improvement and fight against corruption. I remain committed to the fulfillment of these promises.

“Now, as this administration commences, we are taking stock of progress made so far in the war against corruption, assessing what needs to be done and devising new strategies to address existing challenges.

“I am pleased to inform you that this process has already started with the recent interaction between the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption and all anti-corruption agencies in Nigeria.

“The outcome of the interaction, among others, shall serve as the basis for a more concerted effort by this administration to:

“Strengthen the capacity of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and other anti-corruption agencies by providing additional material, organisational and logistical support.

“Close existing legislative loopholes, facilitate collaboration with the judiciary, and strengthen the criminal justice system.

Enforce effective asset declaration by public office holders and ensure sanctions by professional bodies against lawyers, bankers, brokers, public officials, and other individuals facilitating corrupt practices. Ensure comprehensive support and protection to whistleblowers, witnesses and victims of corruption.

“Adopt and formulate the policy of ‘naming and shaming’ all those who engage in corrupt practices while encouraging and honouring those who do not. Educate, mobilise and encourage Nigerians at the grassroots level to take ownership of the fight against corruption.

“Press for a crackdown on safe havens for corrupt assets, abolishing of bank secrecy jurisdictions and tax havens on the continent and beyond.

“Insist on the unconditional return of looted assets kept abroad and further strengthening of international cooperation through information and mutual legal assistance.”

President Buhari said that henceforth, anti-corruption fight should be seen not to end in itself but as an instrument not only to fight poverty but a means to restore the right order of things.

“As we work to integrate these outlined measures and others into the anti-corruption drive with renewed vigour, we look forward to the active support and cooperation of all,” he said.

He also called for a continental strategic partnership and a global alliance to successfully defeat corruption and urged all the participants to be part of such alliance and partnership.

While appreciating the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for organizing the National Democracy Day Anti-corruption Summit, he thanked Presidents of other countries that attended the summit, adding that their presence demonstrated their individual commitment towards collaborating with Nigeria government in addressing issues of corruption at the regional and continental levels.

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